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Iranians Begin Voting In Disputed Elections

Tehran, 20 February 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Iranians today began voting in a disputed parliamentary election, overshadowed by a ban on most reformist candidates.

Reformists who dominate the outgoing parliament have urged voters to boycott the poll to protest the disqualifications by unelected conservatives of thousands of pro-reform candidates.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who was among the first to vote, told state television today that Iran's enemies were trying to deter young people from voting -- an apparent reference to the boycott urged by reformists.

The Interior Ministry said some 46 million Iranians aged 16 and over were entitled to vote for the 290-member parliament, or Majlis.

Islamic conservatives seem certain to dominate the new assembly after the Guardians Council, a watchdog panel of unelected clerics, disqualified some 2,400 mainly reformist candidates and another 1,179 withdrew.